How to be Direct Without Being Confrontational

Are you afraid of confrontation? Being direct and engaging with someone does not mean you are initiating a confrontation or being confrontational. Yet people often worry that if they are straightforward they will be seen as launching a full-scale confrontation.

Being direct means handling a situation, managing with authority, and dealing with others in an open and straightforward manner.  That’s very different from a confrontational approach, which involves facing off with someone, fighting, or heatedly disagreeing.

Unfortunately, some people who take a confrontational approach excuse or minimize their hostility by terming their behavior “direct.”  If you have ever been subjected to someone’s tantrums and heard them gloss over or justify their abusive behavior as being “direct,” it is understandable that you might shy away from being “direct” yourself.  That is why it is so important to realize the vast difference between truly being direct and being confrontational.  Being confrontational escalates problems and can lead to abusive behavior.  Being direct minimizes problems by fostering productive dialog and seeking resolution.

For many people who worry whether or not to be direct, the real choice is between taking action and not taking action.  Usually, this dilemma arises when a problem occurs.  The person facing the dilemma is anxious over the problem, but fearful that saying something might be seen as confrontational and thereby escalate the problem or make others view him/her negatively.

Make the choice to be direct, and the course of action becomes clearer.  Now that you’ve ruled out confrontational behavior, your only choice is whether to take direct action or do nothing.  Taking direct action may not get you the desired result, but you will at least know that you did all you could to solve the problem. Others are likely to see you as a leader because you acted in a direct, solution-oriented manner, regardless of whether or not you got the result you wanted.

Not engaging is unlikely to resolve the problem, and you will feel more frustrated because you did nothing and hoped to get lucky.  Choosing not to take action can lead others to see you as passive, unwilling to step up to the plate.  It can also increase your stress levels if you harbor anger over the situation, which can lead to a blow-up later on.

Being direct and engaging to find a solution makes you an active part of the world around you, instead of a passive spectator.  Direct action will help you see yourself as empowered, even if things don’t always go your way. As you internalize this sense of empowerment, you are likely to get positive outcomes more often, in part because of your increased confidence and clear communication skills.

Some of the positive results of dealing directly with challenging situations include:

  • Resolving the situation, even if it doesn’t work out exactly as you want.
  • Feeling good about dealing directly with the situation, instead of remaining passive.
  • Gaining confidence in your abilities, so that the next situation will be easier.
  • Feeling empowered, because you have taken direct action on an issue that impacts your life.
  • Gaining the ability to move on, regardless of how the situation worked out, because you know you have done all you can.

Improve your skills at dealing with situations directly with small issues in your daily life.  That way, when something more important arises, you will have the confidence to handle the situation. Begin practicing by finding opportunities to deal directly with people in your daily life. Get comfortable dealing directly with neighbors, doctors, service providers and retailers. Your personal empowerment muscles will strengthen with each experience, and every time you are faced with a challenging situation, your new skills will give you confidence to handle it right away.

Here are some examples of situations where you can use your newly improved direct approach to significantly improve your working environment and make you feel empowered!

  • Your boss is acting differently to you, ignoring you or seems angry, so you schedule an appointment and ask, “Is there a problem we need to discuss?”
  • A client is not returning your calls, so you send an email or a hand-written note expressing concern and asking for a returned call.
  • A client is not paying his invoices, so you make a polite phone call to discuss payment options.
  • You have a difficult coworker who is creating tension in the office, so you look for a way either to speak to that person directly, or to work with others to diffuse or limit the situation.
  • You have a difficult client that is taking a too much of your time, so you set clear boundaries and explain that you will be billing for the extra costs involved for time overruns.

Direct action feels good, because it means you are taking control of the situation.  Being direct doesn’t guarantee that every situation will work out in the way you’d like it to, but it will increase the odds that you will get at least some of what you want.  Take the first step toward direct action today and see what a difference it makes!


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